CHARLIE AUSTIN – by Garry Armstrong

Today is Charlie Austin’s Memorial Service. 

I first met Charlie Austin at a pickup basketball game in Boston. It was September evening in Boston, 1970.

I was the new TV news reporter guy in town and I was meeting people, on and off the job. One of the people on my “must meet” list was Charlie Austin. He had the reputation – even back then – as one of Boston’s finest reporters.

I’d seen Charlie on television, doing a sports piece as “Chuck” Austin. I liked his laid back style and deep voice.

I was already jealous of that voice.

“Hi, Chuck”,  I said brightly as the pick up teams chose players. I was on the bench.  Charlie was one of the FIRST picked to play.  My envy grew.

Charlie just stared at me. The poker face, I would learn, was his trademark. I didn’t know and thought I’d committed a social blunder.  I was a little confused.  It was a very long moment before Charlie came over and smiled.

“You a 6th man? Instant offense off the bench,”  he asked with a mischievous grin.  I looked at the floor and told him I was the last man sitting. He patted me on the shoulder and headed off for some serious hoops.

Charles Austin

I sat for most of the first half until the coach/assistant news director signalled me to go in. Charlie Austin grinned slyly as I ran on the court.

I made my first three 20-footers to everyone’s surprise,  especially mine.  Hey, no one was guarding me.  Half-time and everyone gathered for coke and pizza. “Nice shot,”  Charlie said to me,  wolfing down 2 slices in seconds.

I smiled and said,  “Thanks, Chuck.”  His smile turned into a deep frown.

“Don’t call me Chuck,”  Charlie said tersely.  I was confused, which he picked up. “They call me Chuck when I do sports. I hate that name. Hate it!  Okay?”

I nodded and told him I heard Henry Aaron hated being called “Hank” but dealt with it because it was a media thing about which you don’t argue.  Charlie nodded with one of his signature crooked smiles. It was back to the bench for me for most of the 2nd half until we hit “Garbage” time and my on court presence didn’t matter.

I cornered Charlie for a post game snack. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

The next time I saw Charlie Austin it was business.  A too familiar scene for us in the coming years.  A shooting in “The Bury” as Roxbury was known in the media. Roxbury, a predominantly Black Boston neighborhood, had been the focal point of simmering tension and violence for several years since the assassination of Martin Luther king sparked  protests in many minority communities across the country. I’d seen it before during my network tenure.

This was different for me.  New city, new community, new faces. I was very anxious as my crew and I arrived, the last news unit on the scene. I surveyed the crowd, taking in all the faces. Local residents,  police units, clergy, and lots of politicians. I didn’t know anyone.

Charlie Austin spotted me.  He walked over and the eyes of the crowd followed him. Charlie stopped in front of me, small smile and embraced me with a “How ya doing,  Garry?”  I was startled and grateful.

Charlie’s welcome gesture was my entrée to Roxbury and all gathered for the story. We shook hands and Charlie rejoined his TV crew. I knew, from previous experience, not to roll film on the initial speakers.  Politicians with “Kumbaya spins” to the violence, the victims, and the suspects. I glanced at Charlie.  His crew wasn’t filming either.

We exchanged knowing smiles. I essentially followed Charlie’s pursuit of interviews.  It was clear he knew all “the players”. It was a strategy I’d follow for a long time until I became familiar with the city.

I learned on many stories that I’d been successful because I knew Charlie Austin.  He opened doors that were shut to other reporters. When I tried to thank him,  Charlie shrugged it off with that crooked grin.

Charlie knew about my hearing problems. He often would take me aside to make sure I had the correct spelling and pronunciation of people and places.  He did this as we both faced similar deadlines.

Charlie and I saw a lot of each other during the volatile Forced Busing School Desegregation years in Boston. It was a period that tested the mettle of many reporters. Only a handful of journalists had full access to both white and minority communities as Boston found itself under an international spotlight. The 6th largest TV market in the country had very few minority reporters.  You could count us on the fingers of one hand.

A few months ago, former Mayor Ray Flynn noted, in an email exchange, how much he appreciated the efforts of some reporters during that volatile period.  Charlie Austin topped Mayor Flynn’s list. I remember how Charlie handled the most difficult, potentially explosive situations.

Poker faced, with a small smile and a gesture that said, “I’m listening to you.”

Charlie’s humanity defused anger and bitterness on both sides of the issue. He didn’t play “the race card” in his reports. He saw the frustration on the faces of families and understood there was a common quest — regardless of skin color — for quality education. Charlie Austin’s reports, delivered in firm manner minus attitude or political agenda,  set the tone for local reporters. It helped me and others do our jobs.

We gritted our teeth when network reporters swept in, leaned on street optics, did often biased and inaccurate reports and swept out-of-town.  Charlie and the rest of us had to repeatedly clean up the messes.  Charlie led the way with his non theatrical, honest reports. He set the bar for the rest of us.

It was a very high bar.

Charlie’s friendship extended beyond work. He knew I needed something more than the job. He was instrumental in getting me involved with the legendary Elma Lewis and her “Black Nativity”  production which now is part of the fabric of Boston’s Arts and Culture community.  I played one of the three Wise Men for several years.  A short time on stage but it was a wonderful experience for me.  It made me feel like I was part of the community,  thanks to Charlie Austin.

In costume for Black Nativity

Charlie rarely talked about his many health issues.  Others thought of him as heroic but Charlie would not have any of such talk. He did proudly show off pictures of his wife, Linda and daughter, Danielle.  Danielle was the bright light in Charlie’s eyes.  His face always swelled with pride and love.

I wish I’d seen Charlie more often in recent years.  He played such a large part in my life and I never got to thank him properly.

He’s probably listening right now with that crooked grin lighting his face.

“Thanks, CHUCK!”

FOREST LIFE WHEN SPRING HAS COME – Marilyn Armstrong

OH FOREST PRIMEVAL


I laughed when Ellin wrote that the weather is perfect for outside. “Not too hot, not too cold, and the bugs aren’t in full attack mode.” Or something to that effect. People who don’t live here don’t “get” the bugs.

We don’t just have insects. We have hordes of insects with jaws and stingers. Tiny ones that get into your eyes and ears and clothing.

The trees will darken as summer progresses

Evil ones that carry disease and vicious ones that requires trips to the doctor and antibiotics. And of course, the slithery ones that eat your trees for breakfast, lunch, and dinner until they are naked. The trees are naked. The bugs are furry and itchy.

This year, so far, the bugs are “normal.” I see no evidence of returning gypsy moth caterpillars and I just hope that we are back to normal again. Nothing more vicious than mosquitoes and flies seem to be out there, discounting the ever-present ants, of course.

So this is our forest. It has come into bloom. Yesterday, actually. You could pretty  much watch the leaves unfurl. It’s not quite summer, so I think we are going to get a week or two of actual spring! Amazing! We deserve it after our last, endless winter.

THROUGH A WINDOW – BRIGHTLY OR DARKLY – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Through a Window

From Cee:
This week the topic is Through a Window.  This week’s topic I hope you can have a lot of fun with it.  I want to see inside, outside or through windows.   Any type of window works, building windows, vehicle windows, ship portholes, airplanes. 


Spring in black & white through the big window
Snow through the window
Mall window
Good-bye
Red Finch through the window against a grey background
Outside with reflection
Dogs all watching falling snow
Light and a Philodendron in the kitchen

 

LIKE DINNER WITHOUT DESSERT: MINI FICTION – Marilyn Armstrong

Like dirty feet on clean sheets, the dark clouds rolled in, occluding the sun, turning the sunny day gray and dismal.

“There goes Autumn,” said Maggie, looking up. “And the wind’s picking up too.” Her companion nodded.

“Like God’s leaf blower,” he commented as a swirl of bright leaves engulfed him.

Parkland along the canal
Photo: Garry Armstrong

Over before it started. Like a story without an ending, a movie that runs out of plot before it runs out of film or a dinner without dessert. Like … Autumn … without the golden leaves.

Or spring without flowers.

SPRING HAS SPRUNG, FINALLY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

It’s finally spring in New England. We can safely move the snow blower out of the garage and back into the shed for storage.

It’s warm enough to put plants out on the patio and not have to worry about a rogue frost killing them all. It’s also just the right temperature to sit on the deck, It’s not too cold and not too hot. And the bugs are not in full attack mode yet.

I can still hear the water rushing in the nearby stream. The heat of summer will dry up the water and silence the stream. The birds are also adding their voices to the outdoor symphony of spring. So it sounds as glorious out there as it looks.

The dogs love to join me outside. They lie down near me or wander around sniffing all the wonderful smells of nature in bloom.

We just built our patio about five years ago. Ironically, as beautiful and bucolic as it is, we have found that we are rarely out there. Except for Tom, who grills there almost every night we’re at home. The problem is that once boating season starts, we spend most nice days on the boat. We also do most of our entertaining at the marina as well.

So there are two small windows for me to enjoy this lovely setting. Early spring and late fall, when we are not always on the boat.

I think maybe this summer I’ll make sure to spend some more time out in my little oasis in the woods. The marina is relaxing and beautiful, but so is my own backyard. After all, there’s no place like home!